Opinions about what will happen on midnight of December 31, 1999 are as widely varied as opinions about what should be done with the budget surplus. But no matter what really does transpire as that magic midnight comes and goes, New York State’s government will be ready for it.For over two years now, State managers and government officials have been playing “what if?” and making plans for how to handle every conceivable scenario for problems and failures caused by the change from 1999 to 2000.
How We Got Here
The so-called “Y2K Problem,” also referred to as “the millennium bug,” arose because when computers were first introduced into America’s businesses in the late 1950s, and lasting until the advent of personal computers in the 1980s, computer storage was very limited and exorbitantly expensive. These constraints were handled in two ways: codification, in which a finite number of potential values for a data field was represented by a series of codes (e.g., “M” or “F” for male and female); and abbreviation, in which data was shortened to a commonly recognizable form (e.g., “NY” for New York).
Using these two methods to conserve storage, early computer programmers began looking for ways to eliminate redundant information. The first two digits in the four digit year representing the century were declared redundant, so programmers started stripping those first two numbers when storing date information. It was considered unlikely that data from prior to 1900 would be computerized, and for a number of reasons – chiefly because the functional life of computer programs was unknown and vastly underestimated – no one considered what would happen after December 31, 1999 when adopting this practice. Over the years, the practice of storing only the last two digits of the year became so institutionalized that it was taught to generations of computer programmers as part of the their college curriculum.
You would think, given the problem’s simple explanation, that just tidying up data so that all year representations included all four digits would put an end to the problem once and for all. Unfortunately, that guess would be wrong, and that’s what caught a lot of computer professionals napping. That same trick – using only the last two digits of the year – was perpetuated into all sorts of programs, including computer operating systems, the logic circuits of computer chips and other electronic devices that keep track of time.
For example, during the weekend of August 20, 1999, the world’s global positioning satellite system (GPS) reached what is known as a “rollover” point. When the system was designed, exactly 1,024 bytes were reserved for counting weekly dates, which could accommodate a little over 20 years’ worth of time. Although the engineers responsible for the GPS realized that this would be a limitation at some point, the design was adopted. Since this problem was known well in advance, warnings were issued to ships and airplanes to prepare them for the possible failure. Some manufacturers of GPS devices incorporated a routine into their products which could account for the rollover and allow them to keep providing accurate date information. Some other manufacturers, most notably the producers of GPS systems for Japanese automobiles, did not. The resulting failures produced large numbers of angry Japanese drivers who couldn’t determine where they were or how to get to where they needed to go.
The Scope of the Problem
On August 24, 1999, CNN reported that the September U. S. State Department Consular Advisory, a report which usually details potential travel problems for U.S. citizens such as natural disasters, civil wars, rampant banditry and political coups will for the first time incorporate a new hazard category: countries at risk for experiencing severe Y2K disruptions. It is widely believed that among the countries included in the warning will be Brazil, Indonesia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Thailand.
The Social Security Administration, which maintains what is arguably the nation’s largest database, has been working on Y2K remediation efforts since 1989 – and still did not reach 100% Y2K compliance with their mission-critical systems until May of this year.
The most recent Summary of Assessment Information from the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion indicates that the vast majority of the systems identified by the Federal government as critical will experience no or very minor century transition problems. In what the Council identified as “major domestic areas,” financial institutions, electric power, telecommunications, air travel and Federal government all exceeded 92% compliance rates. Unfortunately, the Council also reported on several domestic areas with compliance rates of less than 50%: local government, health care, education and small businesses. Perhaps most disturbing of all the statistics given in the Summary was a survey of two thousand “911" call centers, typically managed by county and local governments. In June, 1999, only 37% of these emergency call centers were Y2K compliant.
New York State has been issuing its own quarterly reports on the status of its remediation efforts, and as of July, 1999, the systems identified as “top 40” (the State’s highest priority) were 99.95% Y2K compliant; of the 335 systems identified as “high priority,” 85.87% were Y2K compliant. Each State agency has also been directed to prepare and submit a contingency plan outlining what its fallback positions are for a wide variety of potential failures.
Despite these intensive preparations, it’s impossible for anyone to guarantee that there won’t be any hiccups in any of the State’s systems, public services or utility infrastructures, so the State’s emergency management personnel will staffing an around-the-clock Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the State Emergency Management Office’s bunker beneath the State Office Campus in Albany for what they consider to be the “critical period,” December 31, 1999 through January 2, 2000. Through a variety of mechanisms, these crisis specialists will be able to determine quickly what systems have failed and the locations being affected by the failures, and will be able to direct resources to correct the problems. All critical areas of State operations will be represented in the EOC and GOER will have experts available to assist agency human relations managers in dealing with any workforce problems that may surface.
Workforce Issues Related to the Y2K Problem
New York State government’s use of technology expanded rapidly in the early 1990s, and it was recognized that our efforts in preparing for the century change would be significant in terms of the staffing resources required to make sure that disruptions were kept to an absolute minimum. The Office for Technology was designated the lead agency in the Y2K remediation project, and in early 1998, as part of the State’s overall Year 2000 planning effort, a “swat team” was convened consisting of representatives from the Office for Technology (OFT), the Department of Civil Service (DCS), the Division of the Budget (DOB) and the Office of Employee Relations (OER) to respond to workforce concerns and problems reported to OFT by the State’s information technology (IT) managers.
The team was able to cut through some of the obstacles commonly associated with recruiting and retaining sought-after IT workers, and were able to develop creative ways of ensuring that there would be adequate staff resources to meet the Y2K challenge without shortchanging the employees providing those resources. Through Budget Director Bulletins and policy memoranda, IT managers were given the flexibility that they needed to develop and implement compliance efforts without circumventing the Civil Service system or collective bargaining agreements.
In August, this swat team was reconvened to provide guidance to State managers on the larger employee relations issues associated with the century change. For example, the period from Friday, December 31, 1999 through Sunday, January 2, 2000 is being considered the critical period to identify and correct any problems brought on by the transition to the year 2000. Agencies are being asked, through the traditional tool of Standby On-Call Rosters and through their Y2K Contingency Plans, to identify their essential business processes, the essential staff that will be required to report during this critical period, and how and under what circumstances this essential staff will be activated. Some agencies with “top 40" systems or high priority emergency management responsibilities have already indicated through their contingency plans that they will need their employees to be present at their work sites throughout the entire critical period; others have elected to keep their essential staff on call.
No matter what any agency foresees as its role in the State’s Y2K transition, advance planning will be critical to ensuring that disruptions in essential service are kept to a minimum. To help agency IT and employee relations practitioners in this planning process, OER, in collaboration with the other agencies represented on the “swat team” will be issuing a memorandum that provides information on the questions that are likely to arise during that critical period and the following few days. The good news is that despite a intensive brainstorming session designed to pinpoint the potential problems with a myriad of scenarios that might occur, no new procedures or guidelines will be required. The collective bargaining agreements, the Attendance and Leave rules and the Budget Director’s Bulletins contain all of the policies and procedures necessary to manage staff in emergency situations.
For your information, the following is a condensed version of the swat team’s findings regarding the workforce management issues most likely to occur during the critical period (December 31, 1999 through January 2, 2000) and those first few workdays of the new millennium. Please refer to the GOER memorandum, Budget Bulletins G-1027 and G-1028, the Attendance and Leave Rules and the Budget Director’s Rules, Part 144 for full details – this is only a synopsis of the information contained in those sources.
Information Applicable to All Employees
New Year’s Day Holiday - New Year’s Day, January 1, 2000, falls on a Saturday, and will be observed on that date. Eligible employees for whom Saturday is part of their regular work schedule will receive holiday compensation per their annual election in addition to their regular pay. Holiday compensation is capped at 7.5 or 8 hours, depending on the employee’s normal work schedule. For eligible employees for whom Saturday is a pass day, one day of holiday leave is earned and is available for use beginning January 2, 2000. Employees not eligible for overtime receive holiday compensation for the first 7.5 or 8 hours worked on a holiday.
January 1 and January 2, 2000 - Employees for whom Saturday, January 1 and Sunday, January 2 are regularly scheduled work days, and staff that have been identified as essential to the Y2K transition by their agencies are expected to report on those days.
January 3, 2000 - Monday, January 3, 2000 is a regular workday and State offices will be open. Depending on their operating needs, some agencies may elect to require only essential staff to report, but non-essential employees cannot be required to absent themselves; any employee who wishes to report to work must be given the opportunity to do so.
If an emergency makes a building unsafe for occupancy, the appointing authority may direct an early departure without charge to leave credits for the balance of the work shift for employees who have reported. Directed early departures must be based on emergency conditions at the workplace which make it unsafe for occupancy and are expected to continue for the rest of the workday. Every effort should be made to discuss the proposed early directed early departure with GOER prior to its implementation.
Emergencies expected to be of more than one day in duration should be reported to GOER as soon as possible. In such situations, agencies are expected to make efforts to reassign employees to other locations.
The Governor is the only official empowered to close State offices. A gubernatorial declaration of a state of emergency does not automatically close State offices or excuse employees from reporting to work.
Local states of emergency or locally declared travel bans also do not excuse employees from reporting to work.
Employees who are unable to gain access to work sites located in privately owned buildings closed by landlords are required to charge absences to leave credits if they cannot be reassigned. Such situations should be reported to GOER as soon as possible.
Employees scheduled to work but unable to do so because of emergency conditions at their home, transit problems, etc., must charge their absences to appropriate leave credits. Employees designated as performing essential services are expected to report to work despite emergency conditions. Agencies are asked to communicate this policy to their employees to clarify expectations and minimize understandings.
Work Schedule Changes - If agencies foresee a need to change employee work schedules in order to address a possible emergency, please notify your GOER liaison as soon as possible. Please be prepared to discuss the number of employees to be affected and the anticipated duration of the change. Any changes made must be made in accordance with the provisions of the negotiated agreements and any applicable local labor/management agreements. Schedule changes should not be made to avoid the payment of overtime.
Standby On-Call - The contractual benefit which provides a payment to employees who the agency requires to be available for immediate recall remains unchanged. Eligibility for the standby on-call payment is restricted to those employees on approved standby on-call rosters, the establishment of which is subject to the approval of the department or agency and the Director of the Budget. Employees subject to these contractual provisions should not be required to remain available for recall unless they are included on the approved standby on-call roster.
Overtime - Budget Bulletin G-1027 granted overtime eligibility to employees designated to be performing work directly related to the Y2K transition, and the eligibility provisions contained in that Bulletin also apply to other overtime ineligible employees authorized to incur extraordinary overtime beyond their normal work schedule to respond to a specific Y2K situation. Employees in grades 27 and below are automatically eligible; agencies may request case-by-case determinations from the Division of the Budget for employees above grade 27. All such overtime is payable from agencies’ existing appropriations.
Information Applicable to Designated Employees Working on Y2K Compliance and Transition Activities
Special Vacation - In accordance with agreements negotiated with CSEA and PEF, certain technical employees designated by their agencies as being essential for Y2K compliance efforts have been granted limited relief from contractual limits on vacation maximums. Most of these employees will be working in titles listed in Budget Bulletin G-1027, Attachment A, but eligibility is not limited to those in those titles. It is expected that the Civil Service Commission will provide a similar benefit to M/C employees involved in Y2K compliance and transition activities. Please refer to Budget Bulletin G-1027 and the Attendance and Leave Manual, Policy Bulletin 99-01 for more specific information.
Overtime - The Division of the Budget granted blanket overtime authorization for designated technical staff in grade 27 and below, provided the overtime is directly related to and essential for Y2K compliance activities. Overtime requests for technical staff above grade 27 will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Division of the Budget. Please refer to Budget Bulletin G-1027 for further details.
Overtime Compensatory Time - Employees designated as essential for Y2K compliance activities are permitted to carry compensatory time credits beyond the dates upon which these time credits would otherwise expire. Please refer to Budget Bulletin G-1028 for further details. The requirement that overtime compensatory time credits be liquidated by the end of the fiscal year following the fiscal year in which they were earned continues to apply to all other employees.
Other Resources On Y2K Workforce Issues
In addition to the references listed above, the collective bargaining agreements are another source of guidance for employee relations practitioners. A subject matrix guide to each bargaining unit’s relevant contract articles can be accessed on the Internet at www.goer.state.ny.us/CNA/bumatrix.html.
In addition, GOER will be putting a Frequently Asked Questions list (FAQ) for State employees on its website at www.goer.state.ny.us/y2kfaq.html.
And if, after reviewing all of these resources, you are still unclear on any matter, please refer to your agency’s GOER Liaison. An up-to-date listing of these liaisons will be attached to the GOER memo to be distributed to agency heads and human resource practitioners.
As we said at the outset, what will happen when the new year arrives is impossible to predict with any certainty, but with sufficient planning, we should be able to deal with whatever problems do arise with a minimum of inconvenience to the State and the public.